Review by Judith Caldwell
Messiah is an event that defines the Christmas season. The Bach Elgar Choir has been singing for 113 years and have offered the oratorio through most of those years including 2017. Guest conductor Howard Dyck, with soloists Agnes Zsigovics, soprano, mezzo Allyson McHardy, Colin Ainsworth, tenor, and bassist Sean Watson, the choir, and a 19-piece orchestra presented the full version of Messiah on Saturday night and a shorter sing-along version on Sunday afternoon at Melrose United Church. The church has good acoustics but the pews are quite uncomfortable for a long concert. though it was written as an Easter Oratorio, it tells of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Handel and his librettist, Charles Jennens, told the story in English without using sectarian ideology so that it appeals to a broad section of people. It is very listenable compared to an Italian or Germanic opera. The music is grand and memorable.
The work is divided into three parts, Part I tells the story of the Glory of the Lord and sets the stage for the birth and work of Jesus. Part II is much darker and deals with His death and finally, in the Hallelujah Chorus, His resurrection. Part III tells of the afterlife which awaits.
The soloists are the storytellers in recitatives and arias and each chorus expresses the outcome of these stories. The soloists this evening were excellent, all had lovely voices which were so well trained they managed to make Handel sound as though he were easy to sing, even in the fiendishly difficult ‘Why do the nations so furiously rage together’ and ‘Every valley shall be exalted’, and the audience clearly struggled not to clap after the alto solo ‘But who may abide the day of his coming’.
The choir is a sixty-voice choir with only five tenors and they can usually mask that imbalance really well but this time it was obvious in a number of the choruses, especially ‘His yoke is easy’ and ‘Let us break their bonds asunder’. The soloists joined in the big anthems, ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ and ‘Worthy is the Lamb’ and that helped a lot. The final extended Amen was truly rousing.
Overall this was a very precise, controlled; and restrained Messiah but it did lack passion except in a few of the solos. The term baroque comes from a Portuguese word meaning imperfect pearl and the music of this period is associated with passion, challenge and transition but this interpretation of Handel’s baroque masterpiece seemed to be aiming for perfection, instead – softly delicate. An interesting take on a perennial favourite.
The next concert is Gilbert & Sullivan in February at the Cotton Factory.